The first perek of Masechet Ohalot deals with the transferability of tumah. The perek is structured such that the first four mishnayot deal with levels of tumah in relation to Tumat Hamet. We learn of fundamental concepts, including the fact that a kli that is touching a source of tumah becomes affected with the same level of tumah as that source. This is learnt from the pasuk “bechalal cherev” (Bamidbar 19:16) which teaches that a utensil that comes into contact with a dead body becomes an avi avot hatumah, and if it touches a person that has come into contact with a dead body it becomes like that person. The type of utensil that is referred to here is the subject of debate. According to Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam the pasuk refers to a utensil that is like a cherev (sword), i.e. metal utensils only. Other mefarshim explain that this refers to all utensils with the exception of earthenware.
Whereas the early part of the Masechet deals with tumat hamet and utensils, the fifth Mishnah discusses tumat hazav and tumah of clothes. The Mishnah states that a man and clothing can receive tumah from a zav. A man has a stringency over clothing as one who is touching a zav will transfer tumah to his clothing, whereas any clothing worn by a zav will only be a rishon, by virtue of it being worn by a zav, and cannot transfer tumah to other keilim. Clothing on the other hand has a stringency, in that clothing that is sat or rested upon by a zav becomes an av hatumah which can transmit tumah to a person, whereas a man who carries a zav cannot transmit tumah to a person.
The mefarshim ask why the Mishnah departs from referring to utensils to begin discussing clothes. The Gra answers that the Mishnah discusses clothes in order for the first part of the Mishnah to teach us that a person who is touching a zav is only able to transmit this tumah to other utensils only when he is in contact with these utensils at the same time. This is why the case of clothing is used - just as one can only transmit tumah to clothes by virtue of being in contact with them, the same applies to keilim – i.e. tumat hazav is only transmitted via a person when he is in contact with the zav at the same time as being in contact with the utensil. The Gra adds that the Mishnah also needed to refer to clothes due to the fact that the seifa of the Mishnah refers to items that are fit for lying upon; therefore clothes are a more suitable subject than utensils.
The Mishnah Achrona has another explanation for why the Mishnah departs from discussing utensils and refers to clothes. He states that there is a differentiation in the first four mishnayos and the fifth in order to support the opinion that the pasuk “chalal cherev” refers to metal utensils (i.e. the opinion of Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam above). This is because the first four mishnayos refer specifically to tameh met and keilim, and when the Mishnah moves on to discuss tumat hazav it also refers to other types of utensils (i.e. clothes) in order to emphasise that there is a clear distinction in the types of keilim that is being referred to in the two ‘groups’ of mishnayos.
The Tifferet Yisrael has a different explanation for why this Mishnah refers specifically to clothes as opposed to utensils. He states that the first four mishnayos are talking specifically about cases where the items that came into contact with one another were not attached to one another. This teaches us about a usual (stam) case where utensils are not directly attached to a person. However, in the fifth Mishnah we are now teaching the law of a man and utensils that are in contact and therefore the case must reflect this – and so specifically refers to clothing. This demonstrates a stam/usual case where a person comes into contact with a tameh person and the effect on utensils that are considered attached to him. This teaching that is learnt from the first part of the Mishnah extends to the seifa. The seifa refers to clothing that ‘carries’ a zav rather than other utensils. This is because in a ‘stam’ / usual case, a person does not lie or sit on utensils as this is not their purpose. However, something like clothing, which a person would sit on in a regular manner is used to demonstrate the teaching of the Mishnah as this is something that would occur regularly.
Receive our publication with an in depth article and revision questions.
Listen to the new Mishnah Shiurim by Yisrael Bankier